Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in cities across the U.S. and around the world on Saturday for massive protests a day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, a signal of discontent with America’s new leader that threatened to upstage his first days in office.
The Women’s March on Washington, billed as a response to Trump’s surprise election victory, eclipsed Trump’s swearing-in as the most widely attended political event in the capital this weekend. It was mirrored by large rallies across the U.S. and in international capitals including Berlin, Paris and Ottawa.
In Washington, women and men hailing from around the country choked subway trains and downtown streets from early morning through late afternoon. Chanting demonstrators could be seen and heard from Trump’s motorcade as he arrived back at the White House from a visit to the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
“The revolution starts here,” musician Madonna told the crowd as thousands of marchers began heading toward the White House. “The fight for the right to be free, to be who we are, to be equal. Let’s march together through this darkness.”
Large, coordinated protests also took place in Boston, San Francisco and St. Louis as Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communication said shortly after 1:30 p.m. local time that the 319-acre Grant Park, the locus of the protest there, had reached capacity. Smaller cities such as Ketchum, Idaho, and St. Paul, Minnesota, also held women’s marches.
More than 500,000 people had used the Washington subway system by 3 p.m. local time, transit authority spokesman Dan Stessel said. Some Metro stations were temporarily closed due to crowding and city officials urged people not to overwhelm the system, which normally handles about 200,000 riders on an average weekend day.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer dismissed any attempt to compare the Washington march with Trump’s inaugural a day earlier, saying that there were no official crowd-size estimates from the National Park Service, which has jurisdiction over the National Mall. He ignored shouted follow-up questions on the march after a brief statement to reporters at the White House late in the afternoon.
Trump lost the U.S. popular vote by about 3 million ballots to Democrat Hillary Clinton but won the Electoral College, securing the presidency. The march organizers’ websiteclaimed more than 600 protests worldwide, including hundreds in the U.S.
Instead of the red “Make America Great Again” regalia popular at the inauguration, many marchers wore pink knitted caps with pointed corners and dubbed “pussyhats,” as a symbol of defiance to the new president.
“I want the message to get to Trump that we are monitoring him, we are paying attention to what’s happening and he will be hearing from us,” said Phyllis Zito, a retiree from Staten Island who was demonstrating in front of Trump Tower in Manhattan on Saturday.
Crowds in Washington stretched almost the entire length of the planned march route, from near National Museum of the American Indian to the Washington Monument, a distance of almost a mile.
Even before it began, the Washington demonstration offered a contrast to Trump’s inauguration day, which was marked by smaller crowds than President Barack Obama’s two inaugurations and destructive protests. Trump opened his presidency with a fiery populist address invoking working-class grievances and a bleak portrait of the country.
Simone Machamer rode Metro to the march on Saturday morning carrying a pink poster that read “IUD: Irritating Ugly Donald.”
The 50-year-old from Sarasota, Florida, said she made the trip to Washington partly because she supports Planned Parenthood and opposes any effort to curb reproductive and abortion rights.
“I’m just hoping that people know what he stood for was wrong,” she said. “His platform was hate, division.”
The Washington Metro system began to experience crowded trains and lengthy wait times Saturday morning, with 275,000 riders by 11 a.m. local time. That was a sharp contrast to inauguration day, when metro statistics showed ridership of 193,000 riders by 11 a.m., which paled in comparison to previous inaugurations, including that of President George W. Bush in 2005.
Clinton said in a Twitter post that the cause behind the march is as “Important as ever.”
“Thanks for standing, speaking & marching for our values @womensmarch,” she posted Saturday on Twitter. “I truly believe we’re always Stronger Together.”
Clinton attended Trump’s inauguration and she wasn’t seen at the protests in either Washington or New York. Several Democratic members of Congress attended the Washington march. Senators Patty Murray of Washington, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Ben Cardin of Maryland, and Ron Wyden of Oregon tweeted out out photos of themselves at the protest. Recently elected Senators Kamala Harris of California and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois were among the speakers.
Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts spoke at the Boston rally and Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri at the St. Louis rally.
Trump generated a backlash from women’s groups for a number of comments he made during the campaign. Trump said he believed women who have abortions should face some kind of punishment, verbally attacked several female journalists, and called Clinton a “nasty woman” during a presidential debate. Remarks from earlier in Trump’s life also surfaced during the campaign, including a 2005 “Access Hollywood” video in which he boasted that he could grab a woman’s genitals without consequence because of his celebrity.
“The rhetoric of the past election cycle has insulted, demonized, and threatened many of us,” the march’s mission statement reads. “The Women’s March on Washington will send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world, that women’s rights are human rights.”
Sarah Costa, executive director of the Women’s Refugee Commission, which advocates globally for women and children refugees, was attending a march in New York with her twelve-year-old twin daughters on Saturday.
“I stand in solidarity with my girls to protect our rights, safety and health,” she said.
Buses full of women packed rest stops along Interstate 95, which runs through Washington. At one rest stop in Delaware, long lines for the women’s restroom prompted some to begin using the men’s restroom, which had no line.
Trump’s victory, which prevented Clinton from becoming the first woman president, prompted immediate protests that had largely dissipated during his transition before intensifying in recent weeks. The women’s march is the largest organized protest targeting Trump’s presidency.
Trump enters office with a historically low approval rating. He is the first president since the dawn of national polling in the late 1930s to begin his term with the approval of fewer than half of Americans — in his case only 40 percent, according to Gallup.
In his inauguration speech, Trump painted a grim portrait of the country, vowing to end what he called “American carnage.” He made a small nod toward uniting the country.
“We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity,” he said. “When America is united, America is totally unstoppable.”
The women’s march is sponsored by groups including Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Human Rights Campaign.
Speakers included Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, filmmaker Michael Moore, and actresses America Ferrera, Scarlett Johansson and Ashley Judd.
The number of people in a crowd is difficult to estimate on the ground. The National Park Service used to provide estimates for gatherings on the National Mall by using aerial photographs to gauge how many square feet were occupied. But protest organizers repeatedly complained that their events were under-counted.
In 1995, organizers of the Million Man March, a demonstration for black men intended to show support for family, threatened to sue the Park Service over their estimate that 400,000 people attended, and Congress subsequently barred the agency from spending money on crowd counts.
One of the biggest demonstrations in Washington was the 1969 anti-war march at the height of the Vietnam conflict. Park Service estimates at the time were that 600,000 people attended. An annual anti-abortion march, known as the March for Life, typically draws 200,000 to 250,000 people to Washington.
The Washington D.C. mayor’s office and other local agencies estimated the crowd at Obama’s 2009 inauguration to be 1.8 million, which would make it the biggest gathering in the city.